Jim Riggleman, John McLaren together again with new challenge
Now more than a year removed from the trauma of Mariners 2008, Jim Riggleman and his new bench coach John McLaren are reunited in another Washington with a new challenge: to lead the Washington Nationals, who have lost 205 games the past two seasons, to respectability.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
VIERA, Fla. — They are now more than a year removed from the trauma of 2008, reunited in a crazy reversal of roles with the Washington Nationals.
Nats manager Jim Riggleman, interim no longer, and his new bench coach John McLaren — the man he replaced in the sordid Seattle summer of '08 — have their own challenge to deal with. Namely, leading the woebegone Nationals, who have lost 205 games the past two seasons, to respectability.
Yet for both men, the Seattle situation still gnaws, still tugs at the heartstrings. Not with feelings of bitterness, or finger-pointing, or blame, but pure, genuine regret that it all went so inexplicably wrong.
Riggleman took over as Mariners manager on an interim basis when McLaren was fired on June 19, the M's mired deep in last place at 25-47. Riggleman tried desperately, as McLaren had before him, to bring order to an increasingly dysfunctional team, but to no avail. And he would not get the chance he fervently wanted to give it another go in 2009.
"I really wanted to go back, because I wanted to get it right," Riggleman said Tuesday. "There were some relationships I didn't end on a good note with. Some players didn't really get to know who I am. Maybe I came off as a hardass. I'm not that tough to get along with, but I think it came across that way because I was trying to change some things. It just wasn't received as well as I liked.
"So I wanted to go back and get it right. You hate to leave something when you feel you didn't get the job done the way you feel you're capable of doing."
Instead, the M's hired Don Wakamatsu, and Riggleman moved on to Washington last year as Manny Acta's bench coach. He again ascended to the manager's job in midseason when Acta was fired in July.
This time, Riggleman's message and method resonated. The players responded, finishing a 103-loss season with a respectable 33-37 "surge" that earned Riggleman the Nationals job on a permanent basis in November.
He needed a bench coach. And just as McLaren had reached out to Riggleman when assembling his Seattle staff, Riggleman reached out to McLaren, who had spent the 2009 season as a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I knew he was looking to get back in, and I knew he was a good baseball man," Riggleman said. "I wanted him with me. I didn't have anyone else in mind anyway, and I knew how much he could help me. I was loyal to him, he'll be loyal to me."
It may seem awkward to others, McLaren now an underling to the man he had once hired — and then was replaced by — but neither see it that way. They view it as just another chapter in a long, and enduring, friendship that long predates their Seattle association.
"It doesn't feel odd to me. Not at all," McLaren said. "Jim worked hard for me, and I'm going to work hard for him. It's about loyalty. I don't think the game has loyalty like it used to. I believe in loyalty, and this is a case of being loyal."
Managing the Mariners, where he had so many glorious moments as Lou Piniella's right-hand man, was McLaren's dream job. It obviously still hurts that his tenure was so brief, and so ill-fated.
"I was thinking this job was going to last a long time, and it didn't," he said.
McLaren, however, said it's no longer productive to dwell on the particulars of the M's downfall that season
"You know what? Things are going great for them," he said. "No one cares, anyway. I just want the fans to know I appreciated their support. I'll always consider Seattle home."
McLaren reiterated his fond feelings for the Seattle players and front office — for team president Chuck Armstrong, who helped him land a memorable gig giving baseball clinics in Italy last summer, and even Lee Pelekoudas, who fired McLaren in his role as interim GM.
"There are great people who work for that organization. They're dear friends. Lee Pelekoudas (who resigned as Jack Zduriencik's assistant late in the 2009 season) is still a close friend of mine, and I care about him. I hope he lands on his feet and does well."
McLaren calls Wakamatsu "a good friend" and lauds the job he and Zduriencik did last season. McLaren, who lives in Peoria, Ariz., where the Mariners train, relayed a poignant story of being out to dinner with his wife during spring training last year when Wakamatsu arrived at the same restaurant with several media members.
"I told my wife, 'I think it would be best for everyone if I just slide out of here,' " he said. "It was uncomfortable for him, uncomfortable for me. I just slid out the door."
Now Riggleman and McLaren have slid to Washington, trying to conjure up a revival to rival last year's in Seattle — a turnaround so quick and so thorough it gives the Nats hope.
In both cases, Riggleman said, "It kind of had to hit rock bottom before it was going to get right."
Riggleman had hoped to be the one to make it better in Seattle. McLaren still wonders how it ever got so bad. And both of them are looking for much happier times together in Washington.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
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Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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